10 July 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Annual Rituals

Somehow we have gotten it in our collective crania that activities must be repeated periodically.  This is quite the bizarre assumption.  What is there about the position of the earth in its orbit that requires us to "renew" our insurance at the same time every year, or every year at all?  As we (I) get older and time telescopes, I progressively resent the time I waste on annual activities.  I was contemplating this yesterday as I was dealing with an annual, 30-page government form that inevitably requires a kilobuck to produce and provides a remuneration of about $60 to the government, which $60 is almost certainly consumed by its review, filing, processing, and undoubtedly, shredding.  Assuming there's any need for this exercise at all, would it not make sense to perform it less frequently?  If it were a biennial task, I would save the kilobuck, and the government could buy the deluxe shredder, which would last four times as long since it would be of higher quality and have fewer forms to destroy.

When I picked up my new Prius last year, I was astonished to see that the inspection sticker sported a 2009 expiration date.  It wasn't a mistake, because it was a printed sticker which couldn't possibly exist with a 2009 date unless it was intentional.  Following this observation, I immediately realized that someone in the State of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (which is what the Department of Motor Vehicles styles itself hereabouts) had an attack of logic.  It probably went like this:  Cars in NJ must be inspected every two years (which itself is momentous - it used to be every year).  But this is a new car.  New cars are still under warranty for at least two years, so it will be taken care of.  Therefore, after two years it will pass inspection, so why inspect?  Therefore, let's let the inspection go for four years!  I can hear the originator of this idea conferring with his supervisor:

"Four years?  But won't that reduce the work for our inspection stations?  And won't that make our "customers" (averts face, gags) less miserable?"

Originator:  "Yes sir, I do see the problem.  I've got it!  If we let the inspection be valid for four years, why don't we also force them to pay for registration for four years at the same time!  They're spending many thousands of dollars on a new car - they'll hardly notice the rakeoff!"

Supervisor:  "Good point, Fogerty*.  Let's present it that way:  We can get four years of registration payments and when the owner sells the car after two years, we can get the payment again from the new owner since we don't offer refunds!"

Notwithstanding the supervisory cynicism, it's a boon to motorists.  I'd happily pay a higher registration fee to avoid inspection travail, and I've never kept a new car fewer than four years.  People who trade cars in more often probably aren't paying attention to the extra few bucks, I assert with unjustified generality.

So why not extend this theory to other unpleasant governmental interactions, i.e., all of them?  If one has an uncomplicated income tax situation, why fill out those IRS forms every year?  Go by the last digit of the Social Security Number** - odd, do your taxes on odd years.  Will this affect the commonweal?  It shouldn't - most people pay small amounts or are owed small refunds.  If the situation is otherwise, you can file every year voluntarily.  Imagine that! 

This concept could be extended to other functions easily.  Why must I remember to pay my quarterly property taxes?  Why not give a stack of four (or eight, if they think ahead) checks to the county clerk and have the clerk deposit them on the correct date.  Would you believe they're not allowed to do this?  Even more incredible, and far more local, I had a difficult time convincing our corporate administrative staff that we should offer a "permanent" subscription for one of our products.  I noticed that people are forgetful about renewing and then are panicked when they don't have what they need.  I suggested "Why don't we just get a continuous authorization, and then charge their credit card annually."  Response?  "But... but... but..."

I could carry on with this endlessly (and perhaps annually) but I hope it's obvious that, at least for non-biological activities, many are done by rote more frequently and with greater wastage of precious time than can be justified by their significance.  In fact, I'm tempted to catalog these repetitive activities in a Riklblog bonus, and may do so even if it is a repetitive task.  Time management must be pursued relentlessly, assuming there's any time left over after (daily) Periodic Table Bingo.  

*Not his real name.  Unaccountably, the supervisor calls everyone Fogerty, even though he (the supervisor) doesn't actually exist.

**Keen observer that I am, I've noticed people asking for my "social."  I've yet to devise a snappy response.  Too many suggest themselves to pick one on the spur of the moment.

Richard Factor